This past Sunday, award-winning author and motivational speaker Arshay Cooper came to speak to the youth rowers in a socially distanced manner. As a former rower, he talked about how the sport of rowing changed his life. Growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Arshay witnessed things that kids should never have seen. But when he stumbled upon rowing by chance, he came to love the sport and the things he learned from it.
His story began in school when he saw a white boat in the cafeteria advertising the rowing team. He had no idea what it was, but after being convinced by some of his friends to join, he finally showed up to practice. Many of the people there had never been in the water before, but were willing to try rowing, a sport that most of them had never heard of before. But they learned how to erg, they learned how to row, and most importantly, they learned to be a team. Arshay and his teammates were able to bond over their love of rowing, putting aside their differences to row together in the boat. He spoke about how being a team and rowing in the same boat together brought a unified sense of calm and security where they didn’t have to worry about everything else going on in their lives. And although they faced challenges along the way, both physical and mental, their coach always said: you have to give what hurts. So they did. They showed the world that they could overcome adversity while doing what they loved.
Arshay became the captain of the first all African-American high school rowing team at Manley High School. His experiences motivated him to write his memoir, Suga Water and self-publish it in 2015 so he could raise awareness and help bring rowing into communities like his. Now, he is republishing his story with Macmillan, and the documentary “A Most Beautiful Thing” is set to come out on July 10th. Below is a brief interview with Arshay:
Q: What is your favorite part about rowing?
A: My favorite part of rowing is really the team aspect. Just being in a boat, moving together. And the bond outside of the boat, losing together, winning together, it’s a bond you create for life.
Q: What advice would you give to people who are new to the sport of rowing?
A: The opportunities for young people in the sport of rowing is the reason why people are sold on the sport. There are no pep rallies, there are no cheerleaders, but what you do find is people who show up every day because they get the chance to travel and scholarship opportunities. You have a lot of fun travelling, being in the water, and it’s a guarantee that you’ll be around those people for the rest of your life.
Q: What advice would you give to people who are seasoned rowers?
A: My coach said this to me, I’ll never forget it. He said: you have to give what hurts. So my advice for young people is that when you’re on the erg, and it’s getting tough, you have to understand that it hurts. No pain no gain. To see the results you want to see, you have to give what hurts. You have to train yourself mentally as much as physically.
Q: What motivated you to write a book about your experiences?
A: The lack of opportunities in communities like mine. You have a sport that wants more diversity, and then you have a neighborhood like mine with not many opportunities, so I wanted to bridge that gap.
Q: How has the diversity and inclusion in rowing changed from when you rowed to now?
A: It has gotten a little better, mainly in major cities like Chicago, New York, Philly. It just needs some more exposure but honestly I think that it can be a lot better. We just need more coaches that are passionate to see the sport diversify. It’s definitely a lot different now 20 years later, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Q: There is currently a waitlist for Concept 2 ergs. Do you think this quarantine will spur a new generation of rowers?
A: I think so. We don’t know in certain cities if you are going to be able to play contact sports, and the erg is perfect because you can sit 6ft apart and race virtually and compete against other teams. You can’t put tanks or boats in schools, but you can put ergs, and I think that’s the start of something great.
NPBRC Looks forward to hosting Mr. Cooper again soon!